The coverage in The Times yesterday was interesting. The film review itself (p.13 of Times 2) is quite fair, though the use of the word "drudgery" in the following phrase describing the monks life style, that "their routines of devotion and drudgery are reflected in the rhythms ad repetition within the picture", did not match my impression. The review rightly identifies the key scene of the red wine taken with an evening meal, accompanied by the music to Swan Lake played on a tape. Though I believe this scene is invented, but with some basis in the reality that the monks did listen to classical music during their recreation, its meaning in the context of the film is profound.
The interview with the director and writer on p.15 of Times 2 gives an account of the care taken in the making of the film. It is interesting that the producer says that "I never wanted it to be a Catholic film" and the writer also observes, talking abut the way in which the film came about and grew from his original idea, that "No, no God involved". We have here film professionals without any religious faith of their own almost resisting the profoundly religious implications of the story that inspires their film and the profoundly religious content of their own film. And yet their account of how the story of the monks of Tibhirine fascinates and draws them, and their care in trying to tell the story accurately and fairly, shows a genuine integrity on their part. According to the interview:
What the director wanted to explain was the religious calling, and the film becomes gripping as each monk decides whether to stay and almost inevitably become a martyr, or to go.And, in a telling comment, the director is quoted as saying:
"You don't often see people on screen being sincere and noble".The review posted at Independent Catholic News has as its first paragraph:
Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men opens in the UK today. If you only go to one more film this year - see this one. It is Catholic cinema at its best - beautifully filmed, with a haunting soundtrack, sensitive performances and a gripping human story that deals with faith, community, ecumenism, and the meaning of vocation.I do not actually see a contradiction between Jo Siedlecka's identification of it as "Catholic cinema" and the director's denial that it is such. That the same film can be characterised in both ways is an indication of its nature as an authentic instance of dialogue between those without religous faith and a religous subject. (It would be more accurate to refer to inter-religious dialogue, though, rather than ecumenism).
Whilst I would praise this film wholeheartedly as an engagement of the professional environment of cinema with the environment of religious faith, and praise the integrity with which the cinema professionals have undertaken that engagement, the Times coverage yesterday left me with a touch of disappointment. I can understand that the writer and director should approach their subject understanding it as a secular subject (in a good sense) rather than a religious one, and that gives the film its appeal to a wider audience; but they seem to be leaving their subject understanding it as a secular subject, and asserting its nature as a secular subject, where one might ask of them, not a religious conversion, but at least to have learnt from their subject its essentially religious nature.